Philippe Couillard and his Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) needed a distraction, badly. With austerity everywhere except for Bombardier and mass protests ramping up again, they needed a way to take everyone’s mind off the damage they were doing and refocus it on something polarizing, though easy to get behind. If the battle lines get redrawn, even better.

They found it. The PLQ’s particular brand of smoke and mirrors politics starts with removing smoke and vapor from Quebec’s terrasses.

The National Assembly just passed Bill 44 which makes it illegal to smoke on outdoor restaurant and bar terrasses and bans electronic cigarette smoking (vaping) everywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. Establishments caught allowing their patrons to break this new law multiple times could face fines up to $100 000.

Whether you’re a non-smoker, a smoker, someone who hates cigarettes, vapes, you name it, one thing is clear: this law does nothing except help out the Couillard government.

No Health Benefits for Non-Smokers or Smokers

When Quebec banned smoking indoors in any public place back in 2006, bar and restaurant owners complained and some patrons weren’t happy either. Others, non-smokers and people who didn’t like their clothes smelling like smoke the day after a night out, rejoiced.

The indoor smoking ban made sense and had actual, tangible health benefits. Second-hand smoke can be a killer. When a room is filled with smoke, everyone in it is breathing smoke in, whether they want to or not.

Bill 44, on the other hand, makes no sense at all. It doesn’t protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke. Smoke outdoors is not enclosed, and with no ceiling to hit, it doesn’t linger. Some argue that there is a greater health risk sitting close to someone who is smoking, even outside, I fail to see how a smoker on the sidewalk, across an imaginary divide, poses any less risk to the non-smoker on a terrasse as one sitting on the terrace itself.

If this is correct, though, then doesn’t the smoker standing on a sidewalk pose a greater health risk to a non-smoker walking down the street then they did when they were sitting down smoking on a terrasse. If anything, this law just passes the buck. Health-wise.

This new law is even more galling when it comes to vapers. While the jury is still out on health risks faced by someone smoking an e-cigarette, one thing is crystal clear: there is no second-hand vape smoke, even indoors.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons
Image via Flickr Creative Commons

This new law offers no health benefits to non-smokers, but it also offers none to smokers. Smoking cigarettes is dangerous, but it’s just as dangerous for the smoker sitting on a terrasse as it is to a smoker standing on the sidewalk. Vaping, if it does turn out to be dangerous to the vaper, is equally as dangerous whether they are inside, sitting on a terrasse outside or on the sidewalk.

Only banning the sale of cigarettes and e-cigarettes outright can provide the health benefits to smokers that those who support this law want. Moving smokers to the curb is just an annoying esthetic measure that does nothing.

Esthetic Choices Should Be Left to the Establishment, Not the State

There is one solid argument in favour of Bill 44 that I have seen from non-smokers on my Facebook feed: cigarette smoke smells. It’s true, it does. No one, most smokers included, want their dinner to smell like an ashtray.

I fully support restaurants that banned smoking on their terraces. Most of them did it years ago. Some bars that want to offer a smoke-free experience to their customers have done the same.

I fully support an establishment’s right to select the esthetics they greet their customers with. People who want a smoke-free outdoor dining or drinking experience will support those establishments, as they have been.

If you don’t want people smoking next to you while you eat, select your establishment accordingly. There is no need for government intervention.

When the state imposes a uniform esthetic on all establishments, it doesn’t just hurt the dive bars and those places which prefer clients who like to smoke while they drink. It also hurts businesses that created a niche for themselves by offering a smoke-free outdoor environment. They loose that competitive advantage because now everyone with a terrasse offers the same experience…by law.

Creating Problems Where None Existed

If people thought smoking on terrasses was annoying, just wait till they experience having to pass through throngs of smokers standing on the sidewalk. Sure, that happens already in front of bars without outdoor space, but now it will be happening, even in the summer, in front of places with huge front and back terrasses.

Also, staff working at bars with terrasses will now have a new responsibility: making sure people don’t take their drinks with them when they step over the invisible barrier onto the sidewalk for a smoke. Even some of the most respectful and responsible people try to get away with little things like this (which carry a huge fine) when they have had a few.

So, there we have it. A law which does nothing to improve public health, creates problems where none existed and pits smokers as well as those non-smokers who hate government overreach against people who think any curbing of smoking is good. It even passes with unanimous consent, because which politician wants to vote against something that, in theory, curbs smoking.

Couillard has his distraction. Smoke and mirrors achieved by banning the smoke.

La Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics has declared this week a week of action. More than 15 demonstrations will take place in the Greater Montréal area alone. As they say on their Facebook page, The Non Aux Hausses coalition invites everyone, everywhere to join in on the demonstrations against the austerity measures of the Liberal government.

Today is already the second day of actions. Yesterday at Place Émilie Gamelin, at least 500 people attended the gathering held by the teachers, protesting the Liberal government’s austerity measures. The main point was the state of the education system and how the Liberals are leaving it into shambles. There was also interventions from social groups on how the recent measures are directly affecting the welfare of the poorest in our society and especially women. The speakers also indicated that today’s action was but a shadow of things to come with actions to be taken on a weekly and even daily basis throughout the province.

The event closed off with a march accompanied by the SPVM intervention squad.

Click on the image below to see a gallery of photos from Sunday’s event. All photography by Gerry Lauzon.

Anti-Austerity Teacher ProtestAnti-Austerity Teacher Protest

Today’s Anti-Austerity Demonstration

Today at 11:30, a group of protesters occupied the offices of the Bankers Association of Canada in downtown Montreal. The protesters met at McGill College and Sherbrooke, and walked towards Place Montreal Trust. The protest lasted roughly an hour.

More manifs to come in the next three days

Check out this poster below for to see what else to expect this week. If this is what folk are planning for this week only, it looks like Spring 2015 promises to be anything but boring.

Earlier this week, American actor Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, Night at the Museum), amused by the bathroom television in his Vancouver hotel room tweeted a nude selfie along with the following message:

“Nude selfies with the TV screen built into the hotel mirror make things complicated, like this man who now bears the face of my junk for now.”

The man in question is none other than Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. The original tweet seems to have been removed (not sure if Couillard had anything to do that), but Lennon had also posted it on Instagram and Clique du Plateau had screen-grabbed it.

So enjoy that you can now say the premier of Quebec is literally a dickhead, at least according to one American actor’s social media.

couillard screengrab
Screengrab by


Honestly, I’m torn.

I believe in solidarity with workers and I applaud protests that go where they’re not supposed to. I’m also not a huge fan of Coderre.

You’d think the sight of a group of protesting firefighters holding a banner bashing the mayor and causing a bit of chaos right in the council chamber of Montreal City Hall would bring me all kinds of joy. Well, it doesn’t.

You’d also think all the right-wing angryphone “Coderre, he’s our man” type comments left on the CJAD Facebook page and other places online would remind me, as they generally do, that I’m on the other side of the fence. Not in this case.

While I support the firefighters, the transit employees and other municipal workers in their fight against the Quebec Government’s Bill 3, there’s another group in their fight that I have trouble supporting on an emotional, visceral level: the police. In particular, the Montreal Police Brotherhood.

When this group isn’t trying to defend officer’s pensions, they’re standing up for officers like those who murdered Freddy Villanueva and countless others. Say what you want about the STM union and their tactics, but at least they’ve never argued for bus drivers to have the right to run over people if colour they don’t like.

city hall protest firefighters
Monday’s City Hall protest (screengrab from CTV raw footage)

You can’t separate the police from this fight, you can’t even separate them from the action on Monday. The last time student protesters went to City Hall, they couldn’t even get up the steps, never mind in the door and into the council chamber.

The only way Monday’s protesters were able to accomplish what they did was through unofficial police support. That’s cheating in my book.

So here we are, we can’t have solidarity with this group of workers who are protesting without having solidarity with the cops as well. This is a bigger dilemma than that time a few years ago when I realized that supporting STM workers meant I also had to support that asshole bus driver on the 17 route who clearly saw me running for the bus, waited until I was almost at the stop and then sped off.

In that moment, standing on the corner, late for family dinner, I forgot my deeply held convictions and only thought about how I could get that one asshole fired. It’s easy to see how people committed to social justice and workers’ rights can have a problem defending the rights of workers who so brazenly defile the rights of others on a regular basis.

Is it right or is it smart to show solidarity with those who clearly don’t show it to you? Can class consciousness include those who those who serve the elites primarily and only acknowledge that injustice exists when it affects them personally? Is being in solidarity with the police kind of like cheering on your high school bully when he scores a touchdown for the school’s football team? Should we ignore who’s involved and focus instead on the big picture?

These are all very good questions and I don’t have an answer for any of them. What I do have is a suggestion for an action that is also a test.

I’d love to see ASSE or another group on the SPVM hitlist organize a solidarity demo against Couillard and Bill 3. Bring back the red squares, maybe use some of the wording from the red squares that currently adorn police cars, don’t follow P6, don’t provide a route and just see what happens.

Best case scenario, this ushers in a new solidarity where cops in future demos start ignoring their commanders and refuse to enforce bullshit laws against those who stood with them. Most likely scenario is the cops either let the march happen or kettle it quickly and hope it doesn’t get much media play.

No matter what happens, though, this would be a chance for activists to truly take the high road while flipping the script on those in power and their enforcers, if only for a bit.

* Top image: Shayne Gryn via Facebook